Patience- Part 2
So, round two, on patience. Everybody being patient about it? All three of you ha ha. In the last post I mentioned how it’s possible to think that patience is only required when dealing with our fellow man, (or women, in the case of the coupon lady). I alluded to a story of lost patience which occurred when I was completely and totally alone. That particular story will require a fair bit of history if it’s to make sense. Hang on for a bit while I weave the tale.
I am a ticketed forest technician with field experience. Back in my dim past, I was working on a forest management crew. On this occasion the crew’s job was to supervise a private contractor, and his hard working hirelings, in the endeavor of planting tree seedlings in an area that had been logged the previous winter. Our crew, working for the government, didn’t actually have to crack the whip, so to speak, but we had to be sure that the terms of the contract were carried out as to planting density/quality etc. In order to locate our randomly mapped out test plots, one needed to use a compass, to find direction, and be able to measure linear distance (the GPS system was not in commercial, or personal use at the time.) The linear measuring device we used (invented to measure distance and patience, I’m sure), was called a topofil, which is the inanimate character in my story.
The topofil utilized a cone shaped spool of thread, the end of which wound its way through a tensioner and around a wheel. The end of the thread (about the same size as sewing thread) was tied off at the start point, and as you walked the uncoiling thread would turn the wheel, which kept track of distance like an old fashioned odometer in a car. This was the theory anyway. Like all machinery the topofil had its quirks, and all of the quirks were infuriating. If the tensioner was too tight the line would snap, to loose, and it would slip on the wheel and stop measuring. I could speak at length about all the idiosyncrasies , extreme cold, badly manufactured string, wet string, abuse of the previous owner, etc; that could cause topofil frustration. Having to work with these devises day in, day out, you learned all the tricks to keep on keepin on. The tricks all failed on the day of conflation. The day my patience snapped entirely, and left me ready to commit topofil murder.
I suppose even more backstory is required lest you think I am not at all qualified to even mouth the word patience. This particular story takes place during what my coworkers and I were beginning to call the shift from hell, and I had a few extra handicaps that assured me I had reached the hubs. I had mentioned earlier how remote the location was, allow me to explain. Most people today who camp, or venture beyond the normal confines of civilization feel that they are “remote” when they lose cell phone signal. This was far out and beyond that, I was in a truly remote location, by helicopter, a long ways. All our supplies; tents, trikes (yes trikes, it was that long ago),food,fuel, etc was choppered in using sling loads. We slept in canvas tents and ate our meals around the fire. I know this could be a wonderful experience in the right situation, but not this time. The only time it quit raining was when it was sleeting and early hatchings of sandflies and mosquitos brave enough to fly were a constant plague.
We were swamped (literally and figuratively). The weather continued to deteriorate, the choppers couldn’t get to us, and we were running out of all supplies, even food. We ended up working hard, in bad living conditions, and bad weather, for twenty four days in a row. I think I can lay claim of least having an inkling of what being “bushed” feels like. On top of these challenges, we all faced personal hardships. I had planned to go south and visit my girlfriend. when your twenty, seeing your girlfriend is rather important. I also had a raging case of, what I now know was, pinkeye, and the worst thing of all were my boots (whining? I am not whining, just letting my readers line up all the facts).
I had bought a brand new pair of rubber boots (what else do you wear in weather only suitable for arctic dwelling amphibians) for this shift, and the boots completely fell apart. Both sides of each boot split vertically from the sole to the top band; bad rubber, bad timing, and positively nasty thoughts imagined. Thoughts of where I was going to insert those boots when I went back to the guy who sold them…………..never mind. My feet were wet, cold and nasty for 14 days straight, from the time I rolled out of my damp sleeping bag till I crawled back into it. I couldn’t fix the boots, tried to no avail. If I would have had a couple of rolls of duct tape I could have fixed the boots no problem. We had some duct tape, but I had to leave a little on the roll for fixing leaky tents. I kept the boots together using flagging ribbon, which helped a bit, but it didn’t seal the boots from water, grass, bark, spruce needles, bugs, etc. Maybe the bugs were hatching in my boots come to think of it, but at any rate my feet were damned uncomfortable for a time just short of eternity. To this day the closest feeling to heaven for me is a dry, clean, warm pair of socks. Let’s move on, to the day of my meltdown.
I was up, dressed in damp clothes, scavenged some food from a dwindling supply, and had traveled (one creek and two muskeg crossings) to my first cutblock by mid-morning. I slung on my gear and my shotgun (bear protection) and tied my topofil line to the marked corner of the block. Looking up the slope of the cutblock I could see this was going to be a rough slog. The cutblock had been blade scarified during the winter to prepare it for planting. The slash, deadfall, and tree tops had been heaped in long rows, in no particular pattern.
Here’s the thing with compassing and measuring your way to a particular point, you have to walk a straight line, and that meant I would spend much time climbing those piles. If you ever get an urge to climb over an eight foot brush pile; don’t, just go lay down somewhere till the urge goes away. Unfortunately I had to climb, not just this pile, but many others, all day. Climbing those piles went with the job, so I took a compass shot and started out briskly, at the very least in an effort to keep warm.
When you walk with a topofil in your hand you can feel the vibration of the thread turning the wheel, hence you know you’re measuring your linear movement. When the time comes to climb a brush pile however, its slow, and all you feel is precarious. When I reached the top of the pile I looked down at my topofil, and no thread could be seen. I looked behind me, there was the broken end drifting away from me in the rain.
I moaned with frustration and climbed down again to grab the end of the thread. Sitting down on the sopping ground, trying to shield the innards of the cursed device from the rain, I opened up the topofil hoping to find that the string had broken just inside the box. I could then knot the broken ends together and carry on; no joy. The end of the thread was next to the roll, it would have to be re-threaded through the topofil’s innards. The thread had to be pushed through various holes lined with glass tubes, wrapped twice around the wheel, re-tensioned, then pushed through the side of the box via another glass tube.
Sound easy? Try doing all that in the rain and sleet while slapping at bugs, and, oh yeah; if the string gets wet it sticks to the sides of the tubes. If you do get the string through the damp labyrinth, the wetness causes the string to slip on the wheel. I was good at this though, plenty of practice, only slightly distracted by the flying insects wearing winter parkas and snorkels.
I am going to be merciful and cut these frustrating hours to a shortened and condensed version. This happened over, and over, and over. I can’t remember the exact ratio of how many times the thread broke while on top of a brush pile, compared to when the thread broke while slopping across level ground (which I felt right away), but the statistics were not conducive to mental health.
When I did reach a target plot I had to mark off a set area to do my job. The job was to do a plant count in the plot and dig up a percentage of the trees to record the quality of the planting job. These duties were carried out in the intermittent rain/sleet, and growing frustration. By mid-day I was definitely feeling picked on by karma/cosmos/GOD/luck or whatever; not that I was really analyzing what was plaguing my existence on the planet, but I must say I was feeling rather sorry for myself. I guess that is an understatement, I was reaching a stage of insanity. Rubber room, huggie jackets and all that. I tried every combination of tension settings, reeling off yards of thread and throwing it away, changing rolls with fresh ones; you name it!
I had a coworker that swore you could make the machine work flawlessly by wrapping the thread twice around the wheel,making sure to cross the threads . I told him his theory was pure superstition, as the threads would not stay crossed, he just replied that it worked for him. Let me tell you I tried it that day, several times. I tried triple wraps with crosses; hell, if a squirrel would have got in my way I would have sacrificed it on a stump to what ever unholy demon was possessing my topofil.
The final whiff of human reason left me late in the afternoon, while cresting a particularly bad brush pile. I saw the thread snap and fly away at the same time I lost my balance and I tumbled down the far side. The hated topofil flew out of my hand and clattered onto the top of a large rock just even with the ground. My body was contorted and in pain, various limbs integrating with the chaos of slash; I could hardly move, then my sore and bloodshot eyes locked onto that hated devil machine laying on the top of that rock. There was a calculated slowness with which I extricated myself, still staring intently at that orange box; there was no doubt in my fevered brain, it was going to die.
That #**%$@ box of hardware was going to die a violent, painful death. I was going to obliterate it in some way, then dig a deep grave with my bare, cold hands. I was going to bury the hated remains, then tramp the dirt down hard with my shredded, slimy boots. All my miseries, problems and woes focused on that square orange box. It was toast, I would see to that! I began to unsling my shotgun, the plan forming in my head to blast the topofil to confetti in a hail of gunfire.
A sliver of sanity showed me a picture of buckshot ricocheting into my shins so I started to look for a rock as a means of topofil destruction. No luck, a nice big log, wielded as a club, became a popular fantasy for mayhem, and I scanned the brush pile for a suitable cudgel. The bleached top-end of a deadfall caught my eye and I grunted as I headed for it. Tearing and pulling at that log gave me the only moment when I honestly think I understood the concept of “a red haze” of anger. Even the bugs were scared of me and kept their distance, the cold rain seemed to sizzle as it lashed my face. In a word; I was pissed off! Before mayhem could ensue, events conspired that stopped me cold. In the physical world, the fierce weapon I had chosen to demolish the topofil, fell apart, showering me in rotten bark splinters and diseased softened pine wood. At the exact same moment the log was disintegrating, I was overcome with how ridiculous I was acting, and began to laugh. With the laughter came a clarity of thought (I told you I was a little bushed.)
I guess you could say after this I pulled myself together and carried on. I don’t remember if I actually tried to use the topofil after that incident, but I remember going over and picking the topofil up, it had become just a machine housed in a plastic box again. I don’t remember the rest of the work day, because it became a day of reflection.
I had to ponder the status change of the topofil, where was the real target of my anger? To whom, or what, was I throwing the tantrum? Life? That is too general. The cosmos? Gimme a break. I may as well of been throwing handfuls of that rotten log toward heaven shouting: “WHY are you doing this to me God!” I know it sounds shocking, but let’s face it, everybody who hasn’t been there…….will be eventually. I think I found that place, inside of ourselves, where patience is found.
It is not a popular concept today, but the idea held sway for centuries, it’s found in the concept of the fear of God. Now wait, just hold on, this is not a sermon, just need to give credit where credit is most warranted. The actual well from which one draws true patience is found in our own humility. Humility is a by-product that flows within when we acknowledge the awesomeness of our Creator. We can get around a “higher power” and simply make jokes of ourselves in order to cope, and lets face it learning to laugh at ourselves is good medicine. However, that medicine by itself, has limits to it’s healing power.
We have some sad tales in our popular culture, tales of depressed, but talented comedians. They are tales of fear and loneliness being covered up with jokes that make other people laugh, and it made the comic feel good for awhile. The tragic ending to some of those comedians tells us that the funny bone is not the organ that needs healing. A session of laughter, especially at ourselves, however, is important in the battle against self importance. Self importance kills the humility we need for true strength, patience, and inner peace. Something was missing in the lives of those famous comedians that went down the road of self destruction, and the missing ingredient was not humor. These talented and funny people weren’t short of popularity either, they were loved, and even worshiped by the media, and the masses. It makes one realize that society may need to re-think the theories on the importance of self-esteem. Maybe we’ve mixed destructive pride into the popular teachings of self-esteem.
Again we find ourselves at an unpopular topic, nobody likes to even think about how our own pride leads us into trouble. Nobody wants to talk about it yet we live in a world filled with the consequences of runaway pride. The majority of our societal woes can be traced back to pride, through pride’s children. Greed, lust for power, envy, etc, are all the offspring of uncontrolled pride. We have an entire society wanting to blame somebody for all the trouble, dammit! Its not fair! It’s not Right! I’m going to sue/go to the press/pass a law/get a gun/pound your face in! There are also agitators in our society that have learned to stir up, and then control the power of the self-righteous and angry mob. Chanting, sign waving, rock throwing crowds are a powerful weapon if they are controlled, I think Lenin called them “useful idiots.” If you find yourself in such a crowd, lets hope your emotion is coupled with a great depth of understanding, unless you like being a pawn, and a fool.
Yes, a fool, another word hardly used today. Strange that it isn’t used more as our culture seems to be filling up with so much foolishness. The word “fool” is found throughout the bible, but one quote ties in nicely to our theme on patience. It’s found in the same book of the Bible that inspired the Byrds and Pete Seeger to write the song “turn,turn,turn (to everything there is a season), the book of Ecclesiastes. Verses eight and nine of chapter seven (along with my crude interpretations) go like this:
Better is the patient spirit than the lofty spirit. (Lofty, as in, you know, pride, maybe?) Do not in spirit become quickly discontented, (don’t get all warped over things without thinking it through). For discontent lodges in the bosom of a fool. (a permanently self-righteous hothead is an idiot).
Of course there are reasons for passionate, or even righteous anger. May God give you wisdom if you reach that point, God forbid if its because somebody cuts you off in traffic. On that miserable day in the rain I discovered the power of humility, and its ability to keep us sane. I was by myself, it was stupid to be mad at a box and pointless to be mad at God. There is only one question that I’ve thought about. If a materialistic minded atheist could understand my anger towards that topofil, and wanted to help me smash it to bits, who or what would they be upset about; Darwin?
BREAK/BREAK/BREAK- To all you technical guys out there saying: OK, FINE, whatever. The question I have, is what exactly was WRONG with your topofil?
I know the secret and I’ll give ya all the details………… send me twenty bucks. Just kidding, but ya gotta read the next post.